It Takes Just One

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

March 23, 2016

Just OneTwo years ago, Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenges launched with just one idea — that 99 words was enough of a constraint to invite writers to explore literary creativity. One by one, writers showed up to take the challenge. From that beginning, the ranch is now a vibrant community of diverse writers.

This week writers explored the idea of “just one.” If that’s all it takes, what can it lead to? Like a layer cake, each week’s responses add to the finished dessert. Serve up a slice of stories this week and taste the different perspectives. Some stories even include real cake, and in surprising ways.

The following stories are based on the March 16, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the idea of “just one.”


Just One by Ann Edall-Robson

Delicate squares of cake rest on an old fashioned platter. The ornate, antique carafe holds the perfectly steeped tea. An elegant china cup and saucer set, accompanied by a silver spoon, slices of lemon and a dainty pot of honey, elegantly adorn the silver tray. A starched linen napkin, crisp and folded, placed next to a sprig of fresh lavender. Preparations duplicated down to the last detail from the scene in the book.

The query letters have gone out. Refusals come back. How could publishers ignore such elegance? Just one acceptance letter would launch the scene to the world.


The Power of One by Norah Colvin

Only much later, through a chance meeting with mutual friends, did she discover her power of one.

“I know you,” said the other, pointing her cake fork. “You’re the one.”

The old fear gripped, twisting tight. Her cake lost its appeal.

“Which one?” another asked.

“In the foyer. On the first day. You spoke to me.”

“Oh,” she reddened, shrinking to nothingness inside.

“I was so nervous. You made me feel welcome, at ease. I’ve been wanting to thank you.”

“Oh,” she lifted her fork, smiling. “You’re welcome.”

“If only you knew,” she thought. “I did it for me.”


Lemonade Stand by Larry La Forge

Ed and Edna watched from their front window. Some neighborhood kids set up a rickety card table just off the sidewalk and brought out a pitcher and plastic cups. They fashioned a makeshift sign, propping it up with a rock:


Nothing happened for nearly two hours. That’s when Edna realized they just needed one thing to get business rolling.

Edna cut her newly-baked chocolate cake into serving squares, put them on a plate and delivered them to the stand.

Ed smiled from the window as a line gradually formed in front of the altered sign:

Lemonade and Cake


Halloween Leftovers by Anthony Amore

He held his daughter’s hair while she vomited into the toilet. An array of undigested colors and shapes propelled themselves from deep within her seven-year-old body. She convulsed and moaned slightly. “What did you eat,” he asked.

“Candy,” she muttered as he wiped her face with a cold face cloth.

“I know that,” he said. “But how much?”

She threw up again. “Just one,” she mumbled, “like you said.”

Just one, he thought. A Swedish Fish bobbed in the toilet bowl.

Tucking her in, he asked again, “Just one?”

“Yea,” she said. “One Butterfinger, one Snickers, one Skittles, M&Ms…”


First Step by Kerry E.B. Black

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, or so my mother told me. I studied my reflection. Skin drooped from once-proud bone structure, creating jowls. Sleep shadowed and puffed eyes squinted. From the scale, a Harshad number blinked, the country code for Mauritius taunted. I pinched my lips into an old woman’s disapproval. “That’s it. I’m done.” The drain gulped the soda I dumped. Into the trash bin I threw cookies, chips, and finally the cake, a delectable chocolate affair. I donned resolution like a mantle and took the first step of my health-seeking journey.


Bonus Karma? (#38) by Jules Paige

All it would have taken was one word of kindness… But they,
each in their own individual way had given her nothing. This
wasn’t like being a child and getting a cake on your birthday.

The gift that was given had a name, maybe a few; resolve,
independence, courage. She would make her way without
any of them. And one by one, through death, or disease or
just plain ignorance she would let them go.

There was and could continue to be pain when memories
reared ugly heads. But as they faded, the nightmares would
change into pleasant dreams.


Just One to Speak the Truth by Charli Mills

Sarah handed Leroy a cup of cold coffee and the carrot cake his wife had fixed earlier. Five days now since Cobb was gunned down at Rock Creek. She could still smell blood. Hickok, Doc Brink and Nancy Jane’s lover were under arrest for murder in Beatrice.

“Did you find the teamster?”

“Yes.” Leroy downed the coffee and set aside the plate.

“He’ll testify?”

Leroy growled. “No. Not one man will speak well of Cobb.”

“Mary’s got to let Roe testify.”

“She won’t. She’s scared.”

“Cobb wasn’t armed. I’ll testify. You need just one witness…”

“…who isn’t a woman.”


The First Stone by Jane Dougherty

She glared down at the village in fury. They had no right! She pulled up a clod of turf and slung it down the steeply sloping mountainside. The friable earth flew as it bounced over the edge and out of sight. The village winked smugly in the sun. Church steeple, neat little houses, neat little lives, and they chased her out. Not in so many words. They just made her life hell. The sky was blue but her thoughts grew darker and darker. She chose a rock, hefted it in both hands, tossed it and waited for the thunder.


Just One Chance by Deborah Lee

Spotting the building ahead, Jane stops to check her reflection in a bakery window. Nervous fingers pluck at her clothes, smooth around her hairline. It’s been months since she last wore foundation. Her clothes haven’t manufactured any wrinkles, her shoes pinch. She’d been at the gym to shower and dress at three this morning to allow for bus travel time.

After countless applications, finally, an interview! She murmurs prayers to a god she needs to believe in right now as she approaches the building, clutching the portfolio holding her resumé. All she needs is this chance. Just one chance.


Just One by Lady Lee Manila

I was accepted to have an apprenticeship with BASF Chemical Company. I spoke no German, but then, I’m convinced I’ll get by. I was allocated in the Inorganic Department, producing and analysing some dyes. I was provided a name who was also working in the same building, but in a different laboratory. Hence, first thing in the morning, I knocked on Room 602 and a tall English man opened it. “I am, indeed.” was his answer to my question. He helped me obtain my lab gown and safety goggles that morning and waited for me for lunch every day.


If Only Just One by Oliana Kim

She’d been shoved out of the car by a group of drunken young men, chanting GoHabsGo! She passed through the stalls and walked out the door leading to the bus terminus where many homeless persons gathered for shelter until the police shoved them out at midnight.

She was mortified at the sight of the same young men urinating on a poor homeless woman. Passersby just frowned. She sighed, thinking that just one person may have changed this poor woman’s fate. She felt a tear roll down her cheek at the apathy of society and cruelty of these young men.


He Picked the Wrong Midwife by Ellen Best

“Hand it over” He waved a knife at her.

Shocked, Sandy gaped, she scowled, pursed her lips tight and…
“You Yob! unless your cutting cake put that away, who do you think you’re pointing at? I probably brought you into this world, and I can soon slap you back out”.

She swung her handbag, his hat hit the floor followed by his bony body. He scrambled glassy eyed back towards the road as he heard, “Not so bloody tough now.”

He thought… screwed by an old biddy, when all I needed was just one wrap; then I could forget.


Guilt by Bill Engelson

Once the dust from the passing stagecoach had settled, and our horses were rested, Aggie and I continued on.

“You have met this man before, this Brace Caldwell?” she asked.

“That I have,” I answered.

Yes, I told her, just that one time. The Massacre at Soda Springs five years earlier. Caldwell and his rabid gang of Pistoliers had raided my tiny town, burned it to the ground. A dozen dead. I’d had my shot and failed.

“He’s riding alone these days, Aggie. But still slaughtering.”

“Does he know you’re coming, Mr. Dodds?”

“I expect he’s always known, Aggie.”


Chocolate Cake by Kate Spencer

Carrie plopped herself onto the chair beside her grandmother, flung her arms onto the table and buried her face.

“It’s a failure, Granny!” she cried.

“What is?”

“The chocolate cake recipe you gave me.”

“Why’d you say that?”

“’Cause I made the stupid cake last night and no one raved about it. They do when they eat yours!”

Granny stifled a smile and kindly said instead, “Tell me what happened.”

Carrie sobbed out her story and when she finished, Granny spoke softly.

“Carrie, there’s just one magical ingredient that transforms all baking into masterpieces. It’s when you add love.”


The Only One Out by Rowena Newton

The historic terrace house was gone. Firemen unable to extinguish the blaze, the neighbours were all out in the street in their undies, nighties and nothing at all. Desperate to help, a naked man was using his garden hose. Absolutely impotent, it needed more than a strong dose of Viagra. Another was screaming, his hands and feet burnt. They all knew the family. Their kids all went to the local school.

“Anyone get out?” Reporters asked.

“Just one. Wife and kids didn’t make it. Poor bugger.”

“I’d rather be dead, mate.”

“Yeah but sometimes, you don’t get a choice.”


Apple Harvest by Anne Goodwin

Students camping in the meadow signalled every summer’s end. By day stripping trees in the orchard. By night songs round the campfire, tiptoeing off to tents two by two. When I was small, they’d let me sing along.
Now I’m big and clumsy, Mother keeps me in the kitchen, sorting the good apples from bad. But a cake’s arrived for someone’s birthday; I’m to take it down and come straight back.
“Stay a moment!” His bronzed hand on my shoulder. “At least have a slice of cake.” Just one smile but it’ll see me through the winter. Just one.


The One and Only by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert sighed. ‘We’ll have to stop.’

Mary nodded. ‘If we don’t find our sister this time, we’ll give up.’


The little seaside village in Galway felt cold, despite the sun. No one had heard of the Potts family or a girl called Katherine. The detective had been sure was their home.

The van stood by the store as they emerged. ‘Potts? No, but… Maud McGonnel had an aunt – a Potts. They lived here for a few years in the 80s. Try Newbay. They went there.’

As he drove off, Mary smiled at Rupert. ‘It only takes one.’


Dumb Old Dale by Pete Fanning

We needed just one first down to ice the game. Then Dale would be okay. He wouldn’t get to stomping and cursing, calling the coaches idiots until he was red-faced and miserable.

Mom hated football. Maybe because Dale’s moods hinged on those games. Mine too. A first down and he’d hoist me with gritty fingernails under my arm pits, twirling me until I was spit-up dizzy. He’d whistle through dinner, chewing loudly while tapping the table and nearly bearable to be around.

The quarterback silenced the crowd. Dale snorted, then sipped his beer.

We needed just one first down.


Just One Answer by Drew Sheldon

He stared at the name on his wrist as the question echoed around in his head. Most of the time he refused any answer and certainly never gave the one people really wanted. For many like him, it was the lives he couldn’t save that brought the nightmares. He took so much pride in bringing everyone home from his first combat tour. That luck was absent from the second. Still looking down, he spoke the question back to his inquisitor, “How many people did I kill in combat?”

Looking up from his memorial bracelet, he quietly answered, “Just one.”


Just One Miracle by Susan Zutautus

Just one miracle
Just one prayer
To get me out of total despair

I must be strong
I must be brave
It’s too soon to go to my grave

I’m scared to death to die
Please stay by my side
If the day should come
Please stay, don’t run

Some days are filled with darkness
Some days are full of light
My favorite ones are the ones that make me smile bright

Sitting in the hospital, waiting on results
Hands sweating, heart beating fast
Finally the doc comes at last
Smile on his face
Best news
You’re in remission


Stepping Up by Pat Cummings

Late! Myrna ignored the glares from the group of retired librarians, hitting the restaurant buffet first for tea and a slice of cake.

“Sorry!” she breathed, sinking into place at the large table. “What did I miss?”

Her fork halted halfway between plate and mouth at the answer. “The city voted last night to defund the neighborhood libraries program. They don’t have enough money to staff them AND the Metro library downtown.”

Myrna ate her bite of cake, said, “We’ll be staffing the neighborhood libraries, of course.”

One member looked at another, startled. Several seconds passed, then, “Of course!”


Debut by Elliott Lyngreen

SEBASTIAN got sincere guys screaming In Circles, Sunny Day Real Estate’s

surge. The Cover inspires, generations converge in Subcity living room, on

cardboard across the floor. So so much always about to emerge; and he’s got

just the one; Coyote Pups’ debut single. Switches, discerning chords

anthem-like zoom faces, sneaking embraces so sweet. It’s been baking

subliminally, soundmasking radio-play, rising like a scent in air waves; the

distinct familiarity reinforces hearts. Pups yowl, twist in pranging plight. The

true intricate shape of fiction — quiescent ignited lights – overlaps Sebastian,

tingles lucid, sensations dribble the opening instrumental embarking to the



Cake and Clothes! by Ruchira Khanna

“Jane!” shouted the Mom from the bedroom.

“What?” she responded in an irritating tone.

“Your clothes are all spread out in the room.” took a breather and continued to holler, “Next time, when you ask for a new set of clothes. Think twice!”

” Mom, Chill” Jane countered while texting.

Soon the Mom was standing next to her teen, who was oblivious to her presence.

“Sheesh! Mom! You scared me!” she exclaimed.

“Missy! you can’t eat your cake and get away with it.”


” Jane. I understand you like high class clothes, but you ought to look after them.”


She Was the One by Roger Shipp

Across the dance floor, I saw her.

The sparkle of her smile pulsated with the gyro lights that sent illuminating rainbows streaming across the gym.

Dancing… That was not me. Being light on my feet, was not my gifting.

When I did the speed drills with the tires, our football coach made the team turn their backs. Their giggles as I stumbled through… but that was better than running extra laps for inciting pandemonium in practices.

No Pain…No Gain… Our team motto t-shirt was under my dress shirt. For good luck, I guess.

I stepped forward.

Hesitantly, she stood.


Cocktail Party by Sarah Brentyn

Fruit punch splattered her dress, the shimmering silver fabric stained with neon red splotches. She looked like a walking disease. “What the hell did you do that for?”

The man smiled, wiping his large hand on a cocktail napkin. “That drink wasn’t meant for you.”

No matter. He was always prepared.

Tugging his shirt cuffs so they peeked out a quarter inch, he glanced at the puddle under her feet. “You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

He patted the extra vial of poison in his pocket, pleased at how easy his job had become after just one kill.


Let It In by Sarrah J Woods

Maggie shut her bedroom door and slumped against it. Who was she, anymore? The self-destructive habit that had lured her with its pleasing pain was now consuming her life. All she spoke were lies. All she heard was her mind telling her she was guilty. Horrible. Hopeless.

To drown it out, she switched on the radio and curled up on her bed. A song with a haunting melody came on, and an alto sang about forgiveness.

It just took one chorus. Maggie broke into heaving, cleansing sobs. She let in what, for so long, she had blocked out.



Just One Word by Susan Zutautas

What’re you so intently working on mom, my son asked.

It’s a flash fiction story for a blog that I just started following. You have to write a story that is 99 words.

What happens if it’s 98 or 100 words, he asked.

Then you have to add a word or omit a word silly, it has to be 99 words exactly.
Go grab a piece of that cake and let me finish this challenge.

Oh there’s cake! Well good luck with your story.

Looking down at my word counter, I saw that I was just one word short.


Salute! by Jules Paige

I found a prompt on another post, ‘one’ lure. I wasn’t ‘one’
much for restrictions though. I’d done other one hundred or
less word ventures; wasn’t all that fond of word counts. I do
like short form poetry – that’s a piece of cake. So what’s ‘one’
more challenge with one less word?

I traded out a few other prompts for the consistency of the
Rough Writers – A poet adding flash fiction with a bit of BoTs,
‘Based on (a) True Story’ stirred in the batter. Those I’ve met
are the icing on my cake. Thank you my friends!



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  1. ellenbest24

    Thank you for posting my “just one” amongst the smorgasbord of just ones. Lots of good reads produced from… just one prompt ????

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Yes, it just takes one but they sure do add up into the sum of something good. 🙂

  2. Norah

    Great compilation, Charli. It’s amazing to see all the new writers who have saddled up in the last two years. Also great to see the diversity of takes on your ‘just one’ prompt. Whoever knows where your prompts will lead. An enjoyable read, as usual.

    • Charli Mills

      It is always a treat to see what the compilation brings. Thanks! 🙂

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